How Do Sheep Survive in the Wild?

When you think of sheep, white, fluffy animals at petting zoos and fairs comes to mind.

Many of us forget that those domesticated sheep had to come from somewhere and were wild animals at once.

These animals seem so mild in temperament that it’s hard to imagine how sheep survived in the wild. 

Sheep survive in the wild by staying together as a herd and watching out for predators. Several breeds of sheep still live in the untamed, rugged landscapes of the world. They do not require human care or shearing and are tough and hardy, foraging for food and evading predators.

Wild sheep live mostly in the mountains in the Middle East, Asia, Central Europe, and North America.

Sheep were among the first animals to be domesticated and farmed and have been used for their meat, milk, and wool for over 10,000 years.

Scientists think sheep are descended from the wild mouflon of Europe and Asia and were first domesticated in the area in Iran known today as the “fertile crescent.”

To find out more about how wild sheep live, read on! 

how do sheep survive in the wild

How Are Wild Sheep Different?

While domesticated sheep have been bred for thousands of years for wool production, most wild sheep have long hair dominating their coat, not wool.

The wild species of sheep who have a coat of wool molt once a year by rubbing their bodies against trees to get off the coarse winter coat.

Domestic sheep, such as the Merino sheep, have been bred to have thick, heavy coats and must be sheared to tolerate the warmer season.

The wool of wild sheep, such as the Stone sheep, enables them to live in extreme weather conditions in cold climates, acting as a natural insulator in cold weather and protecting against the sun.

Desert-environment wild sheep have coped with their habitat by eating more food with water in it, such as cacti.

Most domestic sheep do not shed their wool annually but must be shorn.

Related: Do sheep shed their wool naturally?

Wild sheep have evolved larger horns for their protection since they cannot rely on humans for protection from predators like domestic sheep do.

Wild sheep breeds are larger and more rugged, one of the largest species being the North American Bighorn. 

How Do Wild Sheep Protect Themselves?

Sheep rely on superbly honed monocular vision, smell, and hearing for protection from predators.


Like many prey animals, sheep have their eyes on the side of their head, giving them unlimited peripheral vision. 

They have wide, rectangular pupils, giving them a 320° degree field of vision, which enables them to see behind them without turning their heads.

Sheep also have color vision, which further helps them identify predators.

The caveat is sheep have terrible depth perception and can only see clearly up to 20′ feet away.

Sheep congregate in open areas where they can easily see a predator coming.


The olfactory bulb of a sheep is two to three times larger than a human’s, giving them the ability to scent danger easily.

If a sheep is facing the wind, they can smell something from 2 miles away!


Sheep can move their ears towards the direction of a sound to better target what direction it’s coming from.

Sheep are afraid of loud and high-pitched noises and easily spooked by unusual sounds.


By living in hard-to-reach places and using their ability to out-climb predators such as mountain lions, sheep avoid becoming an easy meal.

Some sheep adapt to thin atmospheres to climb higher than most predators.

Wild desert sheep can live on desert mountains as high as 4,000′ feet.

Sheep hooves have hard edges and a soft center, allowing the hoof to mold to rocky terrain and grip tightly.

Their low center of gravity helps make them excellent climbers.

Sheep amazingly can climb ledges of just 2″ inches, making mountain ranges a perfect habitat.

The mountains have forests and meadows, giving them excellent food access.

During the colder months, they graze on high pastures.

During warmer months, they move lowland and browse the different kinds of vegetation at the lower altitudes.

Defense and Speed

As any sheep farmer will tell you, sheep can kick very well, and those hooves are sharp and hard.

A sheep has strong horns protecting its skull and damages its enemies when it headbutts them.

Sheep head butt so hard it is possible to hear the sound up to a mile away, and the force can break bones.

They are fast and agile, running up to 20 mph and jumping 15-30′ feet.

Related: Why do sheep headbutt and ram things?

Herd Animals

Sheep make the most of living in a herd, an effective protective social structure for prey animals.

They live in a flock of anywhere from 10 to 100 sheep, with 20-30 being the average.

Ewes, lambs, and immature males and females group together, protected by bands of males.

Living in a herd means more sheep are on the alert for predators.

If they sense a predator, they rush to the center of the herd, forming a defensive outer ring.

It also means if an individual sheep falls to a predator, the flock will survive as a whole.

Living in herds means protection from predators who prefer to hunt single prey.

Common sheep predators include: 

  • Bobcats 
  • Coyotes
  • Dogs
  • Fox
  • Lynxes
  • Pumas
  • Wolves 

Related: Why do sheep need a shepherd?

Different Breeds of Wild Sheep

The six recognized species of wild sheep are:

  • Argali (O. Ammon)
  • Bighorn Sheep (O. Canadensis)
  • Dall Sheep (O. Dalli)
  • Mouflon (O. Aries)
  • Snow Sheep (O. Nivicola)
  • Urial (O. Orientalis)

Argali sheep range in western East Asia.

Bighorn sheep roam in western North America, especially in the Rocky Mountain area, from Alaska to Mexico.

Dall sheep live in the mountain ranges of Alaska.

The mouflon sheep, considered to be the ancestor of them all, are native to the Caspian region from eastern Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran.

Snow sheep, true to their name, inhabit the mountainous regions of northeastern Siberia.

The Urial sheep is native to Central and South Asia.

Wild species of sheep are popular with hunters as their canniness and environment provide a challenge.

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Growing up amidst the sprawling farms of the South, Wesley developed a profound connection with farm animals from a young age. His childhood experiences instilled in him a deep respect for sustainable and humane farming practices. Today, through, Wesley shares his rich knowledge, aiming to inspire and educate others about the joys and intricacies of rural life.

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